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Firefighters save three cabins in Caribou Lake fire

Posted: May 7, 2014 - 5:01pm

The first large wildfire of the season almost burned down three cabins near Caribou Lake last Friday. Eight Alaska Division of Forestry, three Kachemak Emergency Services and 20 Pioneer Peak Hotshot firefighters kept the fire from burning the structures about 3 miles southwest of Caribou Lake about east of Homer.

This week also is Wildfire Prevention and Preparedness Week, with the Caribou Lake fire a reminder for Alaskans to be aware of the fire danger and fire season.

“We’re just asking people what they can do to prevent fires and also what they can do to prepare for fires,” said Maggie Hess, an information officer with the Division of Forestry.

One house near the origin of the fire had good fire-wise protection with brush and grass cleared away, but two other  cabins on pilings were in dry grass, said Paul Pellegrini, a Division of Forestry fire prevention officer.

“We were trying to figure with our manpower how to keep those things from getting burned up,” he said.

The fire started in dry grass and downed beetle-killed timber, which made working the fire difficult. Firefighters had trouble walking through the timber and kept tripping and falling. A rough four-wheeler trail connects the Caribou Lake area with Basargin Road off East End Road. Firefighters responded in side-by-side all-terrain vehicles and a helicopter. Several bulldozers were used to cut fire breaks, including a small bulldozer run by the landowner where the fire started.

“He scratched some line in that slowed down the fire, which was really beneficial,” Pellegrini said.

A helicopter with Maritime Helicopters also provided water drops. 

“There was a beaver pond, as luck would have it, really close,” Pellegrini said. The helicopter was making trips in 2 minutes. “They (the beavers) were in the pond as the bucket guy would dip. They were flapping their tails at them.”

Firefighters had the fire contained by Sunday morning. Pellegrini said the fire was human caused, with the exact cause under investigation. So far this season there have been 27 fires in the Kenai Peninsula-Kodiak Island area, with 16.2 acres burned.

While not speaking to the specific cause of the Caribou Lake fire, Pellegrini said that in general most fires this season have been because people were not in compliance with their burn permits.

“The big thing is, people need burn permits,” Hess said. “Before they’re allowed to start burning, they need to call and make sure there’s not a suspension in place.”

Pellegrini said one common problem with a burn permit is not having sufficient clearance around a pile. “And then the wind comes up and the embers get into the grass and then the fire just takes off,” he said.

There should be at least 15 feet of clearance around a burn pile.

In Homer, people can call the Homer Volunteer Fire Department at 235-3155 for burn permit information and conditions. Outside of Homer, call 907-260-4269.

Firefighters also went to a .6-acre fire on Hutler Road last Thursday and several unattended campfires on Bishop’s Beach. On April 30, HVFD firefighters went to a report of a column of black smoke by a building near Kachemak Drive and East End Road. They found a person burning without a permit and put out the fire because the person burned material other than wood and paper.

Campfires less than 3-feet-by-3-feet wide are OK without a permit, and as with slash burns, should be on bare soil and 15 feet away from material like dry grass and driftwood. People operating fires should stay with them until the fire is out and dowsed with water.

“The law says you have to be at your fire until it’s completely out,” Pellegrini said.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

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